9 Biggest Lessons I've learned on my Burnout Journey
The Biggest Lessons I learned from my Burnout
Today, February the 24th, is my birthday and I wanted to prepare and offer you something more “special” — something different. So here it is, a longer blogpost about my biggest lessons that I’ve learned on my burnout journey so far.
Here’s an overview of the 9 biggest lessons from my burnout journey:
Burnout is not caused just by physical strain
Digestion and food intolerances are one of the biggest causes for my burnout
Accumulated stress is burning you out
Don’t stop training and working out
Environment and technology might be causing you to burnout
Negative energy and mental pressures are a big chronic stressor
It’s not just physical stress — we also accumulate and repress emotional stuff
Burnout can leave fear and trauma
Align your life’s path with your life’s purpose to conquer burnout.
My burnout story
Some of you follow me and my newsletter from day one and might be more familiar with my story. Others joined later and might not know my story that well.
I’ve been struggling with burnout for the last four years now. I burned out when I was 21. It was during my last season as a professional volleyball player: I was putting myself and my body under too much — both physically and mentally.
Consequently, my body crashed and I burned out.
My health broke and my world fell apart. My digestion broke down and never fully recovered. I was miserable and depleted, sometimes also quite anxious and depressed. At times I thought I was dying and that I’d never regain my health again.
My burnout in late 2017 put me on a years-long journey of healing and regaining my health.
What are the main causes behind my burnout, how to heal myself, how to regain my health and build a new, better me were the main questions and motivations behind my pursuit of understanding and conquering my condition.
Biggest lessons from my burnout
It wasn’t easy to break free from the chains of burnout. It took a lot of time. A lot of trial and error. A lot of pain and suffering. I had to take small, consistent steps. But as time went on, my body slowly started healing and my health got better.
At first I found my burnout as a course. I looked at my peers envying their energy, good health and well-being. In difficult times I went into victim mode and blamed the universe that it had happened to me. I also blamed myself since “I should’ve known better”. I wished that burnout would never have happened so I could be “normal”.
But later on I realized that burnout didn’t happen to me, it happened for me. It was an invitation to build a new, better me. And it still is.
Four and something years later, here are my 9 biggest lessons that I’ve learned from my burnout.
1. Burnout is not caused just by physical strain
When I burned out for the first time in late 2017, I thought that I just pushed my body too much for too long. That I drank too much caffeine. That I didn’t eat enough for my body needs. That I’d pushed with the low carb and keto diet for too much. That I didn’t get enough quality rest and sleep, that I had trained too much and didn’t recover enough.
Sure, all the things mentioned above contributed to me burning out. Chronically not eating enough, drinking too much caffeine and training everyday, put my body in chronic stress and fight or flight mode, which caused my adrenal to overproduce stress hormones, which lead to adrenal fatigue and burnout.
But later on, I started to realize that there was more to my burnout than just things related to the physical realm. There were other factors that contributed to me being in a chronic stressed-out state and consequently burning out: digestion problems and food intolerances, accumulated stress, mental pressures and negative energy.
Let’s go through each one of them.
2. Digestion and food intolerances are one of the biggest causes for my burnout
One of my biggest stressors and causes for my burnout are problems with my digestion and food intolerances.
I have a very sensitive gut. It started at my birth: I was born 4 weeks earlier, and it is during this last period that the baby’s digestion is developing to the fullest. Then, at a few months of age, I contracted the rotavirus in the hospital, which can be very harmful to a newborn’s digestion and can leave lasting consequences. Then at the age of 14 I got an ear bacteria infection, which required antibiotic treatment, which damaged my gut.
During the transition from high school to college, I developed digestive problems for the first time. Lots of stress and physical effort at the Faculty of Architecture and a stressful period with hard training, many matches and trips with volleyball club Calcit Kamnik started nagging my digestion. In January 2016, I got severe stomach cramps for the first time: I was diagnosed with acid reflux or GERD and got proton inhibitor medication, which caused even more digestive problems: I got candida overgrowth, which was causing a lot of problems with my mood and energy.
With my own research and bioresonance treatment, I was able to heal the candida overgrowth and almost heal my acid reflux.
But then I burned out and my digestion got a hit too: my digestion broke down and never fully recovered since.
When our digestion works worse, it needs a lot more energy to digest food and it causes us a lot of unconscious stress and thus depletes our body and depletes our energy stores. Poorer digestion also means that our body receives less nutrients and less energy. It all starts to spin in a vicious circle which can result in problems with fatigue, exhaustion and burnout.
You can read more about my story of digestive problems here:
As my digestion got worse and worse, I also started developing more and more intolerances that I wasn’t aware of. Food intolerances are a strong stressor for the body, consume a lot of energy and can thus cause burnout. The problem with food intolerances is that they consume our energy at an unconscious level: since symptoms of food intolerance are delayed — sometimes even up to 3 days — we are often not aware that food that we have eaten and doesn’t agree with us, is now giving us problems.
Now for me the connection between digestion and burnout is so obvious: when I’m feeling burned out, I can make a very strong connection and correlation between eating that doesn’t agree with me and burnout. And when my body digests the food that has been causing me problems and I poop it out, I feel a noticeable shift in my energy, mood and well-being — the symptoms of burnout also diminish or even vanish.
With trial and error, trying out and implementing new things and sticking to what works best for my body, I now have fewer problems with my digestion and I consequently have more energy, more mental clarity, less problems with burnout and mental health. The things that have been working best for me and my digestion are fasting and intermittent fasting, lower carb and carnivore diet with few or even no vegetables.
I’ll be talking more about the connection between gut problems, food intolerances and burnout in future editions.
3. Accumulated stress is burning you out
I first encountered Emily Fletcher and her ideas in the spring of 2019. She was a guest on one of my favorite podcasts at the time, MeatHead Hippie podcast by Emily Schroom. On the podcast Emily Fletcher, a meditation teacher and founder of Ziva Meditation, was talking about a concept I didn’t know before: the theory of accumulated stress .
Right after the podcast, I ordered Emily’s new book Stress Less Accomplish More where she talked more about how accumulated stress is causing almost every medical problem. Theory of accumulated stress suggests that our body hold onto the memory of every stressor we ever experience in your life: every inflammatory food we ever ate, every all nighter we’ve ever pulled, every time we mentaly overrode our fatigue and grit our teeth to complete a workout, project, or long exhausting week at work. It’s all stored in our cellular and genetic memory.
The accumulated stress can then manifest itself in the present: Burnout can be a result of an accumulation of unprocessed things that we store in our body. Our body will treat this accumulated stress as a stressor: it will think that it’s under threat and will switch into Fight or Flight mode and will order the adrenal glands to keep producing stress hormones and overtime adrenal glands will get fatigued and burnout will occur.
According to Emily, Ziva Technique, a specific type of meditation practice, can help with releasing the accumulated stress from our body and so end problems associated with accumulated stress: digestive problems and food intolerances, stress we experience in the present, our diminished ability to cope with it, autoimmune disorders, and also anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
I remember it very well: as I learned Ziva Technique and started to meditate twice a day, I felt how accumulated was being released and was leaving my body. I had meditated before, but the difference was that Ziva Technique goes more “deep”: by practicing it, you’re able to go into a deep, healing rest, where the body can work on and release the stored stress that was causing us problems.
After the initial period of stress detox symptoms, I was beginning to feel very good: I started to have less problems with my digestion, I was experiencing less stress, my mood was better, I could concentrate better, my burnout symptoms improved and I had less episodes of anxiety and depression.
Later on, I started to implement in my daily life more things that helped me release the accumulated stress: I beggin doing stretching and yoga every morning, I started doing exercises called “Shaking and Dancing”, “Screaming, shouting and punching”, and some breathwork practices — for example Wim Hof Method and DMT breathing.
All of that helped — and still helps — me to get rid and release accumulated stress that is causing me problems with burnout.
If you’re interested in the topic of accumulated stress, you can read more about that in this article:
4. Don’t stop training and working out
One of the mistakes that I made when I quit my volleyball career was to stop training and working out completely.
At that time, after a long and exhausting volleyball season, I was exhausted, spent and burned out. I thought that my body needed a break, so it could heal: While that was true, if I knew what I know now back then, I would have acted differently.
As I stopped training and working out, life and stress continued to occur and because of not training and strengthening my body, over time my body got weaker and weaker and I was able to handle less and less life’s demands and its stressors.
The other problem was that I fell out of the routine of working out and training regularly. I occasionally went to the gym or for a run — but only when I was feeling good. And because I was feeling good, I obviously overdid it: because of that I was sore for a couple of days and my body couldn’t recover properly and it felt like falling back into that burned out, hypo-adrenal state.
Because of that, fear of burning out got stronger and stronger and it was very hard to break it and return to training and working out. And I still struggle with this fear to this day. I’ll talk more about the fear and trauma of burnout in the next points.
One of the ways that I was able to recover from athlete burnout, start training again and make my body strong again, was through strength-based training. In the summer of 2020, I started doing a strength-based program called StrongLifts 5x5, which consisted of two different workouts of primarily main compound lifts — squat, bench press, barbell rows, overhead press and deadlift.
With the right volume, intensity and progressive overload, and with consistency, patience and time, I was able to become stronger and handle more and more life’s demands and stress. In other words, I got stronger and I was able to function better — and my burnout symptoms and condition improved too!
Because as my coach and mentor Ryan Munsey says:
“Strength is the adaptation that leads to all other adaptations.”
If you want to learn more about how to train and work out if you suffer from burnout, check out this article:
5. Environment and technology might be causing you to burnout
This is the biggest lesson that I learned in my first full-time job.
I started working in a Proteini.si supplement store in February of 2020. Ever since I started my wellness journey of studying nutrition and lifestyle, one of my dreams was to work in a supplement store. I always saw it as my dream job: working in a field that I was passionate about, helping people and being of service to others, being immersed in a fantastic world of supplements. It was always my dream job!
I didn’t realize it at first, but my “all-time dream job” was in a very toxic environment.
Half a year into working at that job, I started to notice that I was coming home from work burned out. I couldn’t figure out why I was so exhausted after work. I just thought that’s the way it is: That you work your shift, you come home, you’re tired and you’re done for the day.
But slowly I began to realize what was the culprit behind my problems and malaise.
Apart from the work itself, the problems were tied to the work environment. The supplement store was in a shopping center, an artificial environment that is not very human-friendly.
The bright LED lights. The bad air. No natural sunlight or air. The crowd of people. The bad energy of the shopping center. Loud and upbeat music in the background. These artificial environments might seem customer-friendly but they’re definitely not workers-friendly.
To the average consumer it can be even excitingly attractive because of the temporary boost and stimulants of the bright lights, loud music and low quality air. But believe me that for the workers that spend 6–12 hours a day there, it’s definitely not friendly. Quite the opposite, it can even be harmful. And I have experienced that first hand. It’s not that big of a deal if you think about it, but when you experience it — especially being exposed to it regularly for extended periods of time — it makes total sense why it is so.
After quitting this full-time job and eliminating these environmental stressor, I started to feel so much better: I didn’t feel so burned out all the time, I began to have more energy, less problems with my digestion and I beggan sleeping better.
If you feel burned out without any particular reason, it might as well be that the environment and technology is burning you out.
6. Negative energy and mental pressures are a big chronic stressor
Before I first burned out in 2017, I had been living and acting with a lot of negative energy. I didn’t like where my life was headed, I didn’t enjoy volleyball, I wasn’t feeling the sense of purpose for studying Italian language and history. There was a voice in me telling me that I should change paths, but I acted out of ego: I was in full reaction mode, I ignored the voices and fought them back. Instead of taking a step back, I put more pressure on myself and was fueled by negative energy.
I worked for some time: I pushed through difficult periods, but negative energy and mental pressures and hot-burning fuel — if you’re not careful, you will get burned. And I did: my burnout in late 2017 happened partly because of these mental pressures and negative energy.
Living in a constant state of mental pressures and negative energy means living in a chronic stress, fight or flight state. So when you find yourself in that state, take a step back: slow down, give your body some rest, reassess things and your life, listen to your body and your internal voice and honor it.
If mental pressures don’t calm down, they might be a result of something else.
In my case, mental pressures are often a result of underlying digestive upset, too much caffeine, too much stress or my internal pattern and belief system — feeling that I’m not good enough, that I have to prove myself to others, etc …
7. It’s not just physical stress — we also accumulate and repress emotional stuff
Last summer, summer of 2021, I had a transformative experience during a holotropic breathwork weekend.
Holotropic breathwork is a type of breathwork technique that is meant to give rise to altered states of consciousness, and to have an effect on physical and mental well-being. Developed by Stan Grof in the 1970s to mimic the effect of psychedelic drugs which were being illegalized at the time, holotropic breathwork enables your body, mind and soul to reach an altered state of consciousness where your body, mind and soul can heal themselves.
Beside visions and experiences from the altered, psychedelic state, the biggest thing that I learned from the two breathwork workshops was how to release emotional repressed stuff.
I’m an empath, a highly sensitive person. Like I mentioned above, I tend to hold on to and accumulate a lot of fatigue and stress, but until that weekend I didn’t realize that I had been accumulating and repressing emotional stuff in my body too. Unprocessed emotions will be stored in my physical body and will manifest as pain, tension, discomfort, digestive problems, fatigue and ultimately burnout.
During the breathwork sessions, I was able to locate the tension in my abdominal area and slowly release it out of my body with burping, purging and farting. Later I learned that our emotions are connected to our organs, and if we don’t process those emotions, we will prepresse them and store them in our organs: so the tension in my belly and digestion was repressed emotional stuff that I didn’t know I had been accumulating.
I noticed that after the breathwork weekend, my digestion problems diminished: as the repressed emotional stuff left my body, my digestion was able to work better and I started to feel better and began having less burnout problems.
So now I try to do an emotional cathartic release at least once a week — usually on my destress day on the weekend. I find that it helps me get rid of accumulated and repressed emotional baggage, helps my digestion work better and improves my burnout symptoms and condition.
8. Burnout can leave fear and trauma
Burnout didn’t just leave physical damage, it also left some mental problems. The very intense burnout episode of late 2017 and numerous less severe burnouts later on left in me fear and trauma of burnout.
Fear is an interesting thing: it usually plays tricks on your mind because you can’t tell whether it’s real or not. When I’m feeling down — when I’m physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually tired, fatigued or exhausted — the fear comes back to haunt me. I’m afraid and scared that I’m on the edge and that I might burnout once again. But is that fear real and useful, or is it just an illusion, a negative spiral pattern produced by trauma of burnout, and thus counterproductive?
It’s difficult to tell because sometimes the negative emotions, anxieties and worries that fear might bring are useful and “real”: Anxiety and fear are an anticipation of a threat and they remind us and warn us of what might happen if we continue at this pace. So my anxiety and fear are here to remind me of the burnout experience and they’re trying to prevent me from burning out again.
But at the same time, fear can be counterproductive. Fear produced by past trauma can create an illusion and hold us back and inhibit our growth. If we give in to the fear that we experience, it will reinforce itself and grow stronger. As I mentioned above, that was the case for me in relation to working out and training.
After quitting volleyball and when I started to train again, there was a fear of burnout and I tried to win it with a hammer: I went all-in in the gym. Because the workout was too demanding, my body couldn’t recover and I re-experience that burned out, hypo-adrenal state, which reinforces the fear of athletic burnout.
It took me a lot of time and energy to manage and keep at bay this fear, but I still suffer from it.
There are days — like today, at the time of writing this — that I fear and I’m afraid that I’ve reached the edge, that my well-being will continue to get worse and that I might burnout once again.
But I keep reminding myself that this probably won’t happen, that maybe I just ate something that I didn’t agree with me and is now causing me problems, or that my body just needs to recover fully from that workout, or that I just need some high-quality rest and sleep and that I’ll be fine, etc.
But it’s difficult to reason when you’re in the moment: the best you can do is try and soften the fear with positive thinking, gratitude, mindfulness and meditation, self.love and other self-care practices.
I’m nowhere near a master in the field of psychology, but I’m figuring out and trying to master and conquer my fear and trauma of burnout.
At this point I can offer you my two article that I wrote on fear:
9. Align your life’s path with your life’s purpose to conquer burnout
Although this sounds a bit woo-woo and can be hard to believe, many healers around the world believe that man is a spiritual, energetic and physical being, and that an imbalance between these levels can have consequences on physical and mental health. Every human being has his own soul which is connected to the body.
The spiritual imbalance can manifest on the physical level and cause chronic stress which leads to burnout. Perhaps the soul is telling us that something is wrong and is urging us to change something. We may have deviated from our true life path. Perhaps our current mission is not in line with our life purpose and goal.
One of the important aspects for managing my burnout and my overall well-being is doing things that bring me happiness, a sense of purpose and fulfillment, working towards an important and ambitious goal and pursuing the vision of my life.
Everytime I’m doing things that I feel a lot of passion and purpose for and working towards an important goal, I get reminded of how important it is for me: looking back, the times when I felt best was when I was working on things that really made me happy and I felt a strong sense of purpose and mission for: when I felt that I was on the right track and was doing what I’m meant to be doing.
It’s interesting: during these times, even though I’m working more, there’s no sign of burnout. Quite the opposite: I feel great, I’m happier, I feel less stress, I have energy that I didn’t know I had in me and I have the feeling that I can do everything. I believe it’s because the energy that we give into what we feel joy, passion and purpose for circles back to us, fills us up, gives us fuel and pushes us forward.
However, when there is no such joy, sense of purpose and mission in our lives, various problems can often occur: fatigue, lethargy, apathy and also burnout problems. That’s certainly the case for me: once I achieve the goal and vision that was pushing me forward and was providing me with energy and well-being, I slowly go back to my “old self”: I go back to feeling the usual, back to my old problems with burnout and fatigue.
So I have always wondered how to transfer the feeling of purpose, passion and happiness into everyday life and use it to my advantage…
I’ll explore the topics of joy, happiness, passion and purpose in my next blog posts, so stay tuned for that!
If you have burned out or you’re currently in that burned out state, don’t lose hope!
Even if it feels like a course and you feel that you might not get out of it, burnout happened for you: It was an invitation to build a new, better you.
So embrace the pain and struggle and get out of it better and stronger!
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Love and take care of yourself, forget about worries and enjoy life! ✌
~ Jani ❤